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Holger Dyroff, Gaël Duval, Mark de Visser, and Mike Angelo Discuss LSB, UnitedLinux, and the Linux Market

UnitedLinux, a Divisive Weapon for Caldera's Darl McBride -- Part I

Darl McBride leaves a trail of VaporHype on the Linux Landscape

Mandrake, Red Hat, & SuSE Are the Big Three Linux Distributions

By Mike Angelo

4 September 2002 (C)


Part I Article Index

Part of the phenomenal success of Linux has been the tremendous spirit of cooperation and camaraderie among the producers of Linux distributions. Through that spirit of cooperation and camaraderie, as well as the efforts of the entire Linux community, Linux has managed to eat away some at Microsoft's dominance in the operating system arena.

Nevertheless, Microsoft still owns some 85% to 90% of the personal-computer operating-system market. If Linux is to become more of a major player in that operating system arena, it has its work cut out for it.

That 85% to 90% is close enough for our purposes in today's article. Moreover, market measuring and comparing can be tricky in the computer arena. Is the market-base measured in number of units sold, revenues generated from sales, installed base, number of actual users, popularity polls, and so forth? How do you add into the market-base counts the number of downloads, especially when there often are many mirror download sites involved? How do you account for one boxed-copy of a Linux distribution sold which then results in that boxed CD-set being used to install that Linux distribution on many more machines -- something that is legal for most boxed copies of Linux distributions (except Caldera's) but not for Microsoft Windows? Likewise, how about the one download that then is used to install that one downloaded image on to many machines? The bean counters are more than welcome to hash and gnash over more precise market share estimates -- elsewhere.

One point here is that Microsoft's Windows is the dominant X86 operating system and everyone knows it. Another point is that Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE are the dominant Linux-based operating systems and everyone knows that -- except perhaps Caldera's Darl McBride.

Some four years ago, Linux developers banded together in what now is the Linux Standard Base Project (LSB) in order to develop and promote a set of standards that will increase compatibility among Linux distributions and enable software applications to run on any compliant Linux system. Additionally, the LSB Project seeks to help coordinate efforts to recruit software vendors to port and write products for Linux. ( Mission Statement) That's certainly a very good thing for the advancement of Linux and the Linux community -- and another example of the tremendous spirit of cooperation and camaraderie among the producers of Linux distributions.

Meanwhile, some of the larger and more commercial Linux distribution providers have been developing and selling high-end Linux-based server platforms -- in order to go after the advanced and enterprise server market. A market dominated by UNIX and Microsoft operating systems.

Successful grazing and foraging in this high-end, advanced and enterprise, server market is very important -- especially for Linux distribution providers. Simply put, this high-end, advanced and enterprise, server market is where the big bucks are to be found. The revenues this high-end, advanced and enterprise, server market can provide is what enables Linux distribution providers to pay the freight for development of free and/or low-priced Linux distributions for individual end-users and the small-and-medium-business users.

Mark de Visser is Marketing Vice-President at Red hat. We had the pleasure of discussing LSB, UnitedLinux, and McBride's comments with him on the phone and by e-mail. Here is some of what he said about Red Hat's forays into the advanced and enterprise server market:

Mark de Visser: We focus very clearly on the enterprise market. That does not preclude the fact that SMB [small-and-medium-size business] markets use our software, but the majority of our revenues are driven by enterprise customers. . . .

Our focus is very much on our competition with the UNIX providers - as you suggested it should be . . . Focus is essential if you want your company to succeed.

Our primary opportunity is in going after the UNIX market. Linux on Intel has enormous benefits over UNIX on Risc platforms, both in performance and in cost of ownership. And the transition from UNIX to Linux is relatively simple because of the similarities in tools, capabilities and UI [User Interface].

By the way, every time we compete for a migration by a UNIX customer, Microsoft competes too.

Now, if you think about it there is little sense to the Linux distribution producers to aim their development and marketing efforts at grabbing business from other Linux distribution providers. For one thing, Linux likely has less than a ten per-cent share of the operating-system market. If the Linux distributors simply grab business from each other, there is no growth in the overall size of the Linux market.

However, if the Linux distributors instead aim their development and marketing efforts at grabbing business from UNIX and Microsoft, then the Linux distributors not only increase their individual businesses. They also increase the overall market share that goes to Linux and decrease the market share that goes to UNIX and Windows. Please notice from Mark de Visser's statements above, that is exactly what Red Hat is doing. SuSE spokespeople also say SuSE's market targets are UNIX and MS Windows.

Moreover, with UNIX and Microsoft having what likely is more than 90% of the OS market, there are many more target-customers to go after in the UNIX and MS Windows customer-base than there are in the Linux customer-base. The UNIX and Microsoft pasture is much greener than the Linux pasture for new business hunting.

From the point of advancing the growth of Linux and the Linux community that makes lots of sense. On the other hand, it likely is a sense that the owners of the Windows and UNIX operating systems care not to see made.

Yes, Caldera (CALD) produces a Linux distribution (Caldera OpenLinux) and a UNIX product (Caldera OpenUNIX, formerly SCO UNIX.). Moreover, only some 2% of Caldera's revenues come from its Linux distribution. That pretty much makes Caldera a UNIX company rather than a Linux company. Interestingly, during the more than two weeks we have been working on this story, Caldera announced on 26 August that it is changing its name to SCO. SCO is a UNIX company that Caldera bought about a year ago. Apparently the names of all the Caldera Linux products will be changed to SCO something or other -- ridiculous. Of course Caldera/SCO also will offer its iteration of UnitedLinux

By, in essence, working cooperatively to increase Linux's share of the total OS market, each Linux distribution provider can increase its overall sales even though it does not increase its percentage share of the Linux market. That's simple math. If you get the same percentage share of a bigger pie rather than a smaller pie, you get a bigger bite.

So, it clearly makes more sense for the Linux distribution providers and other citizens of the Linux community to cooperate in order to increase the overall size of the Linux pie -- rather than fight over the same crumbs in a smaller pie.

Up to now, that is pretty much the way things have been working in the wonderful world of Linux. And doing that has worked well for Linux and the Linux community. Linux has made terrific progress.

Well it did make lots of sense, until -- enter Caldera's Darl McBride.

  • See Caldera's Divisive McBride Attacks Red Hat and Mandrake on Page 2 ---->

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